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   Chapter 8 WHAT MUST WE DO

Peace Theories and the Balkan War By Norman Angell Characters: 19779

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

We must have the right political faith-Then we must give effect to it-Good intention not enough-The organization of the great forces of modern life-Our indifference as to the foundations of the evil-The only hope.

What then must we do? Well the first and obvious thing is for each to do his civic duty, for each to determine that he at least shall not reject, with that silly temper which nearly always meets most new points of view, principles which do at least seek to explain things, and do point to the possibility of a better way.

The first thing is to make our own policy right-and that is the work of each one of us; to correct the temper which made us, for instance, to our shame, the partners of the Turk in his work of oppression.

And we must realise that mere good intent does not suffice; that understanding, by which alone we can make headway, is not arrived at by a pleasant emotion like that produced by a Beethoven Sonata; that we pay for our progress in a little harder money than that, the money of hard work, in which must be included hard thinking. And having got that far, we must realise that sound ideas do not spread themselves. They are spread by men. It is one of the astonishing things in the whole problem of the breaking of war, that while men realise that if women are to have votes, or men to be made temperate, or the White Slave Traffic to be stopped, or for that matter, if battleships are to be built, or conscription to be introduced, or soap or pills to be sold, effort, organisation, time, money, must be put into these things. But the greatest revolution that the world has known since mankind acquired the right to freedom of opinion, will apparently get itself accomplished without any of these things; or that at least the Government can quite easily attend to it by asking other Governments to attend a Conference. We must realise that a change of opinion, the recognition of a new fact, or of facts heretofore not realised, is a slow and laborious work, even in the relatively simple things which I have mentioned, and that you cannot make savages into civilised men by collecting them round a table. For the Powers of Europe, so far as their national policies are concerned, are still uncivilised individuals. And their Conferences are bound to fail, when each unit has the falsest conception concerning the matters under discussion. Governments are the embodied expression of general public opinion-and not the best public opinion at that; and until opinion is modified, the embodiment of it will no more be capable of the necessary common action, than would Red Indians be capable of forming an efficient Court of Law, while knowing nothing of law or jurisprudence, or worse still, having utterly false notions of the principles upon which human society is based.

And the occasional conferences of private men still hazy as to these principles are bound to be as ineffective. If the mere meeting and contact of people cleared up misunderstandings, we should not have Suffragettes and Anti-Suffragettes, or Mr. Lloyd George at grips with the doctors.

These occasional conferences, whether official, like those of the Hague, or non-official like those which occasionally meet in London or in Berlin, will not be of great avail in this matter unless a better public opinion renders them effective. They are of some use and no one would desire to see them dropped, but they will not of themselves stem or turn the drift of opinion. What is needed is a permanent organisation of propaganda, framed, not for the purpose of putting some cut and dried scheme into immediate operation, but with the purpose of clarifying European public opinion, making the great mass see a few simple facts straight, instead of crooked, and founded in the hope that ten or fifteen years of hard, steady, persistent work, will create in that time (by virtue of the superiority of the instruments, the Press and the rest of it which we possess) a revolution of opinion as great as that produced at the time of the Reformation, in a period which probably was not more than the lifetime of an ordinary man.

The organization for such permanent work has hardly begun. The Peace Societies have done, and are doing, a real service, but it is evident, for the reasons already indicated, that if the great mass are to be affected, instruments of far wider sweep must be used. Our great commercial and financial interests, our educational and academic institutions, our industrial organizations, the political bodies, must all be reached. An effort along the right lines has been made thanks to the generosity of a more than ordinarily enlightened Conservative capitalist. But the work should be taken up at a hundred points. Some able financier should do for the organization of Banking-which has really become the Industry of Finance and Credit-the same sort of service that Sir Charles Macara has done for the cotton industry of the world. The international action and co-ordination of Trades Unions the world over should be made practical and not, in this matter, be allowed to remain a merely platonic aspiration.

The greater European Universities should possess endowed Chairs of the Science of International Statecraft. While we have Chairs to investigate the nature of the relationship of insects, we have none to investigate the nature of the relationship of man in his political grouping. And the occupants of these Chairs might change places-that of Berlin coming to London or Oxford, and that of Oxford going to Berlin.

The English Navy League and the German Navy League alike tell us that the object of their endeavours is to create an instrument of peace. In that case their efforts should not be confined to increasing the size of the respective arms, but should also be directed to determining how and why and when, and under what conditions, and for what purpose that arm should be used. And that can only be done effectually if the two bodies learn something of the aims and objects of the other. The need for a Navy, and the size of the Navy, depends upon policy, either our own policy, or the policy of the prospective aggressor; and to know something of that, and its adjustment, is surely an integral part of national defence. If both these Navy Leagues, in the fifteen or sixteen years during which they have been in existence, had possessed an intelligence committee, each conferring with the other, and spending even a fraction of the money and energy upon disentangling policy that has been spent upon the sheer bull-dog piling up of armaments, in all human possibility, the situation which now confronts us would not exist.

Then each political party of the respective Parliaments might have its accredited delegates in the Lobbies of the other: the Social Democrats might have their permanent delegates in London, in the Lobbies of the House of Commons; the Labour Party might have their Permanent Delegates in the Lobbies of the Reichstag; and when any Anglo-German question arose, those delegates could speak through the mouth of the Members of the Party to which they were accredited, to the Parliament of the other nation. The Capitalistic parties could have a like bi-national organisation.

"These are wild and foolish suggestions"-that is possible. They have never, however, been discussed with a view to the objects in question. All efforts in this direction have been concentrated upon an attempt to realize mechanically, by some short and royal road, a result far too great and beneficent to be achieved so cheaply.

Before our Conferences, official or unofficial, can have much success, the parties to them must divest their minds of certain illusions which at present dominate them. Until that is done, you might as reasonably expect two cannibals to arrive at a workable scheme for consuming one another. The elementary conceptions, the foundations of the thing are unworkable. Our statecraft is still founded on a sort of political cannibalism, upon the idea that nations progress by conquering, or dominating one another. So long as that is our conception of the relationship of human groups we shall always stand in danger of collision, and our schemes of association and co-operation will always break down.


Many of the points touched upon in the last two chapters are brought out clearly in a recent letter addressed to the Press by my friend and colleague Mr. A.W. Haycock. In this letter to the Press he says:-

If you will examine systematically, as I have done, the comments which have appeared in the Liberal Press, either in the form of leading articles, or in letters from readers, concerning Lord Roberts' speech, you will find that though it is variously described as "diabolical," "pernicious," "wicked," "inflammatory" and "criminal," the real fundamental assumptions on which the whole speech is based, and which, if correct, justify it, are by implication admitted; at any rate, in not one single case that I can discover are they seriously challenged.

Now, when you consider this, it is the most serious fact of the whole incident-far more disquieting in reality than the fact of the speech itself, especially when we remember that Lord Roberts did but adopt and adapt the arguments already used with more sensationalism and less courtesy by Mr. Winston Churchill himself.

The protests against Lord Roberts' speech take the form of denying the intention of Germany to attach this country. But how can his critics be any more aware of the intentions of Germany-65 millions of people acted upon by all sorts of complex political and social forces-than is Lord Roberts? Do we know the intention of England with reference to Woman's Suffrage or Home Rule or Tariff Reform? How, therefore, can we know the intentions of "Germany"?

Lord Roberts, with courtesy, in form

at least and with the warmest tribute to the "noble and imaginative patriotism" of German policy, assumed that that policy would follow the same general impulse that our own has done in the past, and would necessarily follow it since the relation between military power and national greatness and prosperity was to-day what it always has been. In effect, Lord Roberts' case amounts to this:-

"We have built up our Empire and our trade by virtue of the military power of our state; we exist as a nation, sail the seas, and carry on our trade, by virtue of our predominant strength; as that strength fails we shall do all these things merely on the sufferance of stronger nations, who, when pushed by the needs of an expanding population to do so, will deprive us of the capacity for carrying on those vital functions of life, and transfer the means of so doing to themselves to their very great advantage; we have achieved such transfer to ourselves in the past by force and must expect other nations to try and do the same thing unless we are able to prevent them. It is the inevitable struggles of life to be fought out either by war or armaments."

These are not Lord Roberts' words, but the proposition is the clear underlying assumption of his speech. And his critics do not seriously challenge it. Mr. Churchill by implication warmly supports it. At Glasgow he said: "The whole fortune of our race and Empire, the whole treasure accumulated during so many centuries of sacrifice and achievement would perish and be swept utterly away, if our naval supremacy were to be impaired."

Now why should there be any danger of Germany bringing about this catastrophe unless she could profit enormously by so doing? But that implies that a nation does expand by military force, does achieve the best for its people by that means; it does mean that if you are not stronger than your rival, you carry on your trade "on sufferance" and at the appointed hour will have it taken from you by him. And if that assumption-plainly indicated as it is by a Liberal Minister-is right, who can say that Lord Roberts' conclusion is not justified?

Now as to the means of preventing the war. Lord Roberts' formula is:-

"Such a battle front by sea and land that no power or probable combination of powers shall dare to attack us without the certainty of disaster."

This, of course, is taken straight from Mr. Churchill, who, at

Dundee, told us that "the way to make war impossible is to be so

strong as to make victory certain."

We have all apparently, Liberals and Conservatives alike, accepted

this "axiom" as self-evident.

Well, since it is so obvious as all that we may expect the Germans to adopt it. At present they are guided by a much more modest principle (enunciated in the preamble of the German Navy Law); namely, to be sufficiently strong to make it dangerous for your enemy to attack. They must now, according to our "axiom," be so strong as to make our defeat certain.

I am quite sure that the big armament people in Germany are very grateful for the advice which Mr. Churchill and Lord Roberts thus give to the nations of the world, and we may expect to see German armaments so increased as to accord with the new principle.

And Lord Roberts is courageous enough to abide by the conclusion which flows from the fundamental assumption of Liberals and Conservatives alike, i.e., that trade and the means of livelihood can be transferred by force. We have transferred it in the past. "It is excellent policy; it is, or should be, the policy of every nation prepared to play a great part in history." Such are Lord Roberts' actual words. At least, they don't burke the issue.

The Germans will doubtless note the combination: be so strong as to make victory certain, and strike when you have made it certain, and they will then, in the light of this advice, be able to put the right interpretation upon our endeavours to create a great conscript force and our arrangements, which have been going on for some years, to throw an expeditionary force on to the continent.

The outlook is not very pleasant, is it? And yet if you accept the "axiom" that our Empire and our trade is dependent upon force and can be advantageously attacked by a stronger power there is no escape from the inevitable struggle-for the other "axiom" that safety can be secured merely by being enormously stronger than your rival is, as soon as it is tested by applying it to the two parties to the conflict-and, of course, one has as much right to apply it as the other-seen to be simply dangerous and muddle-headed rubbish. Include the two parties in your "axiom" (as you must) and it becomes impossible of application.

Now the whole problem sifts finally down to this one question: Is the assumption made by Lord Roberts and implied by Mr. Churchill concerning the relation of military force to trade and national life well founded? If it is, conflict is inevitable. It is no good crying "panic." If there is this enormous temptation pushing to our national ruin, we ought to be in a panic. And if it is not true? Even in that case conflict will equally be inevitable unless we realise its falseness, for a universal false opinion concerning a fact will have the same result in conduct as though the false belief were true.

And my point is that those concerned to prevent this conflict seem but mildly interested in examining the foundations of the false beliefs that make conflict inevitable. Part of the reluctance to study the subject seems to arise from the fear that if we deny the nonsensical idea that the British Empire would instantaneously fall to pieces were the Germans to dominate the North Sea for 24 hours we should weaken the impulse to defence. That is probably an utterly false idea, but suppose it is true, is the risk of less ardour in defence as great as the risk which comes of having a nation of Roberts and Churchills on both sides of the frontier?

If that happens war becomes not a risk but a certainty.

And it is danger of happening. I speak from the standpoint of a somewhat special experience. During the last 18 months I have addressed not scores but many hundreds of meetings on the subject of the very proposition on which Lord Roberts' speech is based and which I have indicated at the beginning of this letter; I have answered not hundreds but thousands of questions arising out of it. And I think that gives me a somewhat special understanding of the mind of the man in the street. The reason he is subject to panic, and "sees red" and will often accept blindly counsels like those of Lord Roberts, is that he holds as axioms these primary assumptions to which I have referred, namely, that he carries on his daily life by virtue of military force, and that the means of carrying it on will be taken from him by the first stronger power that rises in the world, and that that power will be pushed to do it by the advantage of such seizure. And these axioms he never finds challenged even by his Liberal guides.

The issue for those who really desire a better condition is clear. So long as by their silence, or by their indifference to the discussion of the fundamental facts of this problem they create the impression that Mr. Churchill's axioms are unchallengeable, the panic-mongers will have it all their own way, and our action will be a stimulus to similar action in Germany, and that action will again re-act on ours, and so on ad infinitum.

Why is not some concerted effort made to create in both countries the necessary public opinion, by encouraging the study and discussion of the elements of the case, in some such way, for instance, as that adopted by Mr. Norman Angell in his book?

One organization due to private munificence has been formed and is doing, within limits, an extraordinarily useful work, but we can only hope to affect policy by a much more general interest-the interest of those of leisure and influence. And that does not seem to be forthcoming.

My own work, which has been based quite frankly on Mr. Angell's book, has convinced me that it embodies just the formula most readily understanded of the people. It constitutes a constructive doctrine of International Policy-the only statement I know so definitely applicable to modern conditions.

But the old illusions are so entrenched that if any impression is

to be made on public opinion generally, effort must be persistent,

permanent, and widespread. Mere isolated conferences, disconnected

from work of a permanent character, are altogether inadequate for

the forces that have to be met.

What is needed is a permanent and widespread organization embracing

Trades Unions, Churches and affiliated bodies, Schools and

Universities, basing its work on some definite doctrine of

International Policy which can supplant the present conceptions of

struggle and chaos.

I speak, at least, from the standpoint of experience; in the last resort the hostility, fear and suspicion which from time to time gains currency among the great mass of the people, is due to those elementary misconceptions as to the relation of prosperity, the opportunities of life, to military power. So long as these misconceptions are dominant, nothing is easier than to precipitate panic and bad feeling, and unless we can modify them, we shall in all human probability drift into conflict; and this incident of Lord Roberts' speech and the comment which it has provoked, show that for some not very well defined reason, Liberals, quite as much as Conservatives, by implication, accept the axioms upon which it is based, and give but little evidence that they are seriously bestirring themselves to improve that political education upon which according to their creed, progress can alone be made.

Yours very faithfully,


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